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Throwback Speakeasy an Avenues secret

Published March 15, 2013 8:19 am

Bar exam • Bar underneath Avenues Bistro oozes history.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There are more steps leading down to the bar than there are seats at the Avenues Bistro on Third Speakeasy.

Proprietor Kathie Chadbourne's lounge feels more like a hip neighborhood secret than a destination pub.

This speakeasy adds a clever back-door twist to an already well-executed and charming bistro upstairs. It's like putting up a good front to cover for the darker, more sinister plans being hatched in the back and downstairs.

"This is the first full liquor license in the Avenues. People are so happy about it," said Chadbourne, who opened the upstairs Bistro about a year ago and the downstairs bar a short time later.

State liquor laws define the place as a "lounge," which means people can order a drink while waiting on a table upstairs or they can eat while imbibing below — food has to factor into the equation. Chadbourne said she'd like to keep the bar idea "tiny" and for the neighborhood to feel a sense of ownership, although Speakeasy has been drawing from outside the Avenues.

During excavation and renovation before the bistro opened, Chadbourne found a few choice relics and was sure she had uncovered a secret.

"I would just find little things," she said, like empty liquor bottles. "It just sort of revealed itself. It was a speakeasy before I knew it would become a speakeasy. … I really believe there was a speakeasy down there."

Upon entering the bar, take in the mix of weathered wood plank paneling, bursts of blood-orange paint and empty wine and beer bottles that cover dark wall space.

The bar's name, speakeasy, refers to the illegal sale of alcohol in back-alley pubs — which were run on the hush-hush and often by organized crime syndicates — during Prohibition. The building that houses Avenues Bistro on Third Speakeasy was built in 1905. Utah's quirky Zion Curtain law means drinks at Speakeasy have to be mixed in private, presumably to keep teetotalers and children who might be peeking around the corner from witnessing how liquid sin is mixed.

So the throwback nomenclature helps plant the seed that grown men and women are still getting away with something down here in this hideout.

A single window during the day lets in a little ambient light, which reveals cigar boxes on shelves and martini glasses hanging over an L-shaped bar.

At night, black track lighting and candles add a warm glow to this already intimate setting.

If it's near closing, really slow and quiet — and if you listen closely (and believe in ghosts) — you might hear the sound of ladies laughing. Chadbourne did while living in the furnace room and fixing up the bistro and bar area before opening just over a year ago. The lounge officially opened last August as a wine-tasting room, which evolved into the speakeasy, which apparently has been met with ghostly approval.

"They're so happy," she said about the lady apparitions.

There's just something about this subterranean slice of yesteryear, with the warm accent of an old wood door and weighty utensils wrapped in black cloth napkins. Chadbourne found the buried door while excavating and decided to save it.

A chalkboard suggests $5 "small plates" with names like Nan's Cheese and Frody's Sausage, culinary manifestations from the upstairs bistro that push to provide locally produced fare.

The eclectic décor that endears patrons to the restaurant above filters down the 15 steps to the 12-seat bar, with its two arches of block glass and large throw rug that covers most of the shadowy floor. There's room enough for a few waist-high glass-top tables held up by black metal legs.

If it gets a little too claustrophobic — or if you're paranoid about someone seated close by getting the drop on your personal affairs — there's a second door that leads to a patio out back, which opens when the nights get a little warmer and adds 12 more seats.

It's the kind of place that's also likely to have a dog out front — or back— that waits for its owner, as one did on a recent Wednesday, to finish up inside.

And a sax cat named Rob Bennion even comes in "sporadically" (usually Thursdays or Saturdays) to play at the bar, more evidence that the place oozes coolness.

features@sltrib.com

Avenues Bistro on Third Speakeasy

Where • 564 E. 3rd Ave., Salt Lake City; 801-831-5409

Open • Seven days a week, 5-10 p.m. The Avenues Bistro upstairs is open daily 8 a.m.–10 p.m.

Details • facebook.com/avenuesbistroonthird